Saturday, June 21, 2008

Feeling His Oats

SeƱor Turkeyfeathers has been feeling his oats. We've been spending LOTS of time with him lately, and it seems to be improving his overall outlook on life. He certainly weighs more. All of that climbing and wing flapping suits him.

However, the one thing that doesn't seem to be changing for the better is his reaction to dish washing. I think he feels like he's joining in on the excitement. So, I've tried an experiment or two.

Normally, I don't let him on my shoulder, so it seems to keep him just confused enough to be quiet while I put some dishes away. Sort of. He gets bored and antsy. So, here we have him hanging out on the dishwasher. He liked that, but not in the way I had hoped. How exciting! Grrrr. I'm now working on developing some "incompatible behaviors" for him to engage in on cue so that we can get the dishes done without having our eardrums broken.

In the mean time, he continues to "help" with the dishwashing, at least for now.

Where have we been?

It's been busy around here. I have mostly figured I didn't have much to report beyond the day-to-day stuff that nobody really wants to read about. "Oh wow, you really vacuumed?! Tell me more!" I'm loving being busy, but I haven't quite got the hang of it yet so disorganization is very much in evidence. I'll see what I can do in terms of an interesting update here...

First, of course, we have to talk about Father's Day. Elise made a fantastic gift and card for Andy at school. An "executive" version of the bead toys she loves so much. It was a great morning. She also painted a rock and a picture for him with her sitter, and that's what they're looking at here. The pink box is the giant pile of donuts she and I went out to get. Note the fairy princess dress she's wearing, because you have to be fancy for Father's Day.

I've started volunteering with a couple of different cat rescue organizations. Some of this is to teach Elise about caring for others, and some of it is to teach me the same thing. I think I've mentioned before that I really want us to have something to do together that we enjoy and that benefits the community in some way. Elise thinks she actually is a cat, so cat rescue works pretty well.

Anyway, the organization for which I attended orientation this past week is Maine Coon Adoptions. I'd been a little worried at first because it really seemed like the founder and president of this organization was a little overbearing, but after spending more time with her I think she's highly organized and very professional. I'm going to like working with this group.

Next, we've been getting together with friends a bit more often, which is good for everyone. Last Wednesday, we went to a cooking class with our friends Rista and Danielle. The kids made pretzels! Aren't our girls adorable?

The school was cute and the program well-designed. Like many good ideas, it was sabotaged by the attending parents. I expect a certain amount of chaos when I head for kid-friendly locations. Life is chaotic, little humans exemplify that, and I generally just filter out the white noise and get on with the fun. The parents at this class, though...

(Rant alert!) This was a class in which the parents were supposed to be sitting in the back in case help should be needed. I'll bet the teachers and students wouldn't have minded if the one with the screaming, unhappy toddler stepped outside for 5 minutes. I felt for the moms because I know well the desire to just take one stinkin' minute for myself to talk to my friends. But hysterically screaming children in the middle of a class (especially one with lots of stainless steel surfaces off of which sound can bounce) might merit some attention. The thing that left me stunned and annoyed was that the moms were talking so loudly that their children couldn't hear their teachers. Given that this was in a break from all of the screaming, I thought it was pretty dense of these women to keep on yacking at the top of their lungs.

Unfortunately, I think this kind of behavior is here to stay, at least in this neck of the woods. The neighborhood is full of people for whom class fees are insignificant, and their financial independence seems to have warped their sense of community. For cool kid places like this cooking school to stay in business, they're going to need to adapt to the special needs of the community. Primarily, they need to have clear policies about noise from class visitors. This needs to be clear, and the teachers need to be empowered to gently remind loudmouths to be quiet with the expectation of compliance. Long term, they need something to soak up the ambient noise. I should write to them instead of all of you, yes? (Rant over)

The real fun and joy of the week has been having family in town. It was Geetha's graduation from Stanford, and we had all of "The Ls" around and about. Elise has been looking forward to seeing Aunt Linda again since January. ("Mom, is it June yet? When will it be June?") We had the great treat of having Jaya stay with us, and she even started Elise down the path to musical literacy. What a great crowd on a happy day!

With all of the family around, we took the opportunity to head for Monterey. Elise was convinced that she'd have a great day if she was "fancy" so she had to wear her fairy princess dress to the aquarium. She doesn't know it yet, but that exhibit she's playing with has her pretending to catch krill, a lot like some of the whales she might get to see "live and in person" on the Bay of Fundy.

You'd never know it to look at her here, but she had her first experience with carsickness on this day. Along about Castroville she piped up with, "Mommy, my tummy doesn't feel so good." I looked back and the poor kid was green. Not so attractive with the pink and purple princess dress. We stopped and had a little walk, she perked up, we headed on down the road. After we got out of the car in Monterey, she daintily missed her dress, let me clean her up and she was off again.
So, that's our busy, dizzy, happy week. Stay tuned for more excitement!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy Loving Day

"What's Loving Day?" you might ask. It's amazing to me how much my generation takes for granted. We often think in vague terms about what life was like in this country before the abolition of slavery, before the civil rights movement took off, and really any time before our lives have intersected with the history of humanity. Today marks the 41st anniversary of a great leap forward for our country. I was reminded about this by an excellent commentary on NPR this morning.

On this date in 1967, the US Supreme Court ruled that it's not a crime for people of different races to marry one another. Before I heard of Mildred and Richard Loving, it had never crossed my mind that consenting adults could be prevented from marrying based on skin pigmentation. The very idea of being forced to flee one's home because neighbors don't like your choice of spouse horrifies. This really happened? In my country? You bet it did.

Of course, this change of law hasn't entirely changed attitudes. As recently as a decade ago I worked with some people who proudly proclaimed that they'd never consider an interracial relationship, and would be furious if their kids did. They were both from the deep south so maybe that had something to do with it. Still, it knocked me back and made me realize just how far we have to go in the area of treating our fellow humans with humanity.

I'm so excited for 5:01pm on June 16th here in California. I'm still astounded that this great date in US civil rights required action by a court. Isn't it just "common" sense that consenting adults who want to spend their lives together should be allowed to do so legally? I don't think there's a lot of difference between the attitudes that forced the Lovings from their home and the attitudes that keep so many gay couples from marrying today. From my perspective, it's all about society having someone that it's "okay" to kick around.

Me, I like to think of every day as Loving Day. After all, my government thinks it's okay for me to be married to the man I happen to love. Take a minute to think about Richard and Mildred, two quiet people who changed the lives of all of us for the better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Magical Intertubes

Loyal readers will no doubt recall last week's library list entry into which I inserted a video of Elise reading, reading I tell you, a story from one of her library books.

What an amazing surprise to then see a comment from the author of that very book added to the post! As it happens, she's written a few more of these great books for beginning readers, and she sent them along to encourage Elise to keep up the good work. I don't even have to ask you, "How cool is THAT?!" because by now you, dear reader, have already posed the question to yourself with a wondering shake of the head.

The thing of it is, a kind and thoughtful author will indeed interact with readers. The internet, though, makes this sort of connection a lot less complicated, a lot more fun and a wonderful surprise. How many authors have called you up lately to say, "I noticed that you've bought my latest book in paperback and rumor is that you enjoyed it. Allow me to send you more of my work, it would be my pleasure?" Exactly.

It turns out, we were already fans of Catherine Friend before we ever met Eddie. The Perfect Nest was a hands-down favorite choice on one of those weeks when I slacked on the library list. Go figure. It takes a pretty clever cat to make a perfect nest, and I like baby chicks even though they're not that bright. If you want to know more, I recommend reading the book.

I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Catherine Friend for her excellent writing, and for going out of her way to encourage a very excited new reader. Thank you!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Dream Home

Given the number of places I've lived over time, I've formed some opinions about the kinds of things that make or break a home for me. As we prepare to move at the end of September, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of home our family would like most. Adding up pros and cons of various available options, I have to say that I do not want to live in new construction again anytime soon. Given the strangeness of housing markets, talk of bailouts which would largely target builders, and a growing understanding of intelligent community planning, I figure a rant about new construction will be theraputic for me. Feel free to find the following interesting-or not.

Issues of Usable Space

Where's the common space?
It's a nice idea to give everyone a big bedroom, but not at the expense of common space for the family. Currently, my living room is only a bit bigger than my bedroom, and my dining area is slightly larger than the master bathroom. Where, exactly, are families supposed to congregate? When every bedroom is a fortress, complete with its own bathroom, families have no real reason to spend time in cramped common space.

How many toilets?
This may well be my biggest pet peeve. Does every man, woman, and child in a household actually need his or her own toilet? There are three of us here, and I have 3 toilets to clean. Because of the floorplan, it is not practical to just close off one bathroom. Not only is the cleaning of these things a pain (and environmentally unfriendly) but they take up space. Every square foot allotted to extraneous toilets is a square foot into which I can't fit a bookshelf or a dresser or...or...or...

Stupid floorplan
Bedrooms, regardless of size, need to be usable. It seems like a good idea to have an entire wall devoted to a sliding door for a gigantic closet until you realize that the room is going to need a place for a bed and maybe a dresser or two. I suppose the solution would be to never have a dresser and just use closet organizers. My current bedroom has one wall that isn't beset with doors and windows and funny alcoves. One. How hard would it be to put doors near each other and in corners so as to free up more usable wall space?

Master Bathrooms
I know a lot of people like having their bathrooms connected to their bedrooms. I hate it because it makes it impossible for one person to get up early and another to sleep in. The noise and light and steam and smells are going to invade the sleeping area. Attaching a bathroom to a bedroom often requires some other very stupid floorplan manipulations. And no matter how you slice it, someone is taking a dump in close proximity to where you lay your head on a regular basis.

Issues of Fit and Finish

What's the obsession? It looks shiny and all of that, but the versions I've seen are not exactly superior countertop material. Highly patterned varieties hide dirt very well. Which means that even with obsessive cleaning you never quite know if your work surface is actually clean. Bonus stupidity points for using it in the bathroom. Who wants to step out of a shower and accidentally brush bare skin against a literally "stone cold" counter? Good old formica doesn't get cold like that and is pretty easy to keep clean. Finally, a lot of granite is really porous. That means that wet stuff spilled on a counter, even plain water, will discolor the stone over time. The difference between granite and formica is that I can't use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on granite. In terms of cleanliness and durability there are better choices than granite.

Stainless Steel
This is the ultimate in shiny but stupid. It looks sleek. IF you keep it free of spots and fingerprints. That's pretty much a full-time job. And, depending on how the manufacturer felt at the time, the stuff may or may not have magnetic properties. Refrigerator magnets are downright useful. Spending my life spot-cleaning "stainless" steel so that it doesn't develop funny looking spots is not. I'm all for clean, but draw the line at lovingly polishing my appliances.

Clear Glass Shower Doors
This is one of those things that looks fantastic in magazines and really lousy in real life. For starters, it's a full-time job to keep the things transparent. Especially if you have hard water like we do. Even with using a squeegie after every shower and spraying with that daily shower cleaner stuff, it requrires serious scrubbing on a regular basis to keep it shining. Even if you like spending your life cleaning, these things render a bathroom incapable of multi-tasking. Well, if anyone wants any privacy that is. With frosted doors or ~gasp~ a shower curtain, someone can be in the shower while someone else uses the toilet or the sink. Not practical, unless of course everyone in the house has their very own bathroom.

Dual Vanities
This is another one of those features that a lot of people like. I don't think it's actually necessary, especially if you want a clean house. Most people that want their own sink do so because they don't want to have to pick up after themself or after someone else who doesn't. When we had one sink in the bathroom, I gave it a good swipe every day and it stayed clean. Now, I have two bathroom sinks and I have to make an appointment with myself to keep them clean instead of just a quick wipe down when I'm done brushing my teeth.

Kitchens Without Drawers
I like drawers. The more the better. One for towels, several for silverware and implements, places for food storage stuff. The less crap I have on the counters or stuffed willy-nilly in cupboards, the easier it is to use my kitchen.

Crappy Flooring
Pergo seems like a good idea, but it has to be done right. If it's the kind laid down with adhesive, a particle board subfloor is stupid. Also, get a kind that doesn't scratch easily. Otherwise, you spend your life trying to figure out how to get every last mote of dust off the floor so it doesn't scratch while simultaneously being unable to use a healthy amount of water for fear of buckling the floor. I realize we can't all have hardwood, but that doesn't mean we need crap.

Overall Design

Ventillation, Insulation
For much of human history, we did not have a lot of climate control options for our homes. We built in things like cross-breezes, attic ventillation, etc. Just because we ~can~ artificially control the temperature in the home doesn't mean we need to make that the only option. Windows should open, they should allow for cross-breezes. Some consideration of the direction the house faces, where there's shade, where to plant some vegetation for shade should come standard with new construction. So much of the new stuff I see seems to flaunt that these considerations aren't necessary in a shiny new place.

As I look over these complaints, I realize that I'm mostly railing against what I see as a trend in home-making. So many of the other moms I visit keep a home that's a showpiece. Small common areas, bedroom fortresses and personal toilets work well for that sort of mindset. It's not how I like to live, though. Shiny things seem nice, but then I realize that in order to keep them shiny I spend inordinate amounts of time to maintain them. I need to live in a clean place, and the fact that keeping shiny things clean enough to look clean is a full time job drives me batty.

If my home has to be a museum, it doesn't really get to be mine. Nothing is unique about my shiny, granite, stainless place and it could be home for anyone. Yet it's home for me and I know this only because I clean it nonstop.

Our next place will be clean, cleanable and functional. I'll be surprised if we find it in new construction. Give me a cute old bungalow from an era when they knew how to build homes instead of museums.

Big Numbers

I went to the cheapest gas station on the way to Elise's preschool this morning as we'd managed to run the car's tank down to fumes. We generally don't have to fill the thing up very often because we don't drive that much. Therefore, as gas prices go up and up and up I get a surprise every time I pump gas. It wasn't that long ago that I was surprised by a purchase price of just over $45.

Today's big number: $62

When SUV driving pals would tell me about the trials and tribulations of not being able to fill up before engaging the pump's $75 fraud-o-meter automatic shutoff, I used to smile smugly. Our magic number for a tank of gas is getting a little too close to $75 for my comfort.

I'm glad we have bikes and trains and a free commute for Andy. Of course, we've made choices to arrange our lives that way. What used to make me feel smug is now just mostly leaving me feeling relieved.

We Have a Reader

This week's big news is that Elise is starting to read. She was hinting at it by Sunday, and now she's working on reading just about everything in sight. It's wonderful! Not a lot of new things to choose from as we picked a few old favorites, but we have a few new favorites to share.

This week's reading material:

Lilly's Big Day
by Kevin Henkes
We were so excited to see this book at the library, because Grandpa Karl had just sent Elise Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse in the mail. We like Lily. I like Henkes in general because he creates characters that my kiddo really "gets." In this story, Lilly wants nothing more than to be the flower girl in the wedding of her favorite teacher. Things don't work out quite as she'd hoped, but they go pretty well. Dealing with disappointed expectations is a real problem for our girl, and she was mostly stressed out about Lilly's predicament. It got her thinking that life can potentially go on after a disappointment, though.

What Dads Can't Do
by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Doug Cushman
This is pretty much like What Moms Can't Do, a favorite of mine. I think Elise finds the humor in these a little strange, but I like 'em. The kids in these stories spend time "helping" their parents and reach some rather typical conclusions about what they can and can't do. A good one, just in time for Father's Day.

Last but not least:

Eddie the Raccoon
by Catherine Friend, illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee
This is the book that Elise has been enjoying reading. She and Andy worked on it together on Sunday before he had to catch a plane, and it's been a favorite of everyone here ever since. It's from a series called Brand New Readers. I like that it has a kid-friendly table of contents. Each of the stories in the book has an "introduction" which basically sums up the plot and gives the observant young reader some clues as to what some of the words in the story might be. I remember seeing a few more of these on the shelf, and you can bet we'll be checking them out.

In case you were wondering what one of these Eddie stories sounds like, Elise has provided the following dramatic reading. Enjoy!

We'll add more of these as they become available.